Safety signs are a type of sign designed to warn of hazards, indicate mandatory actions or required use of Personal protective equipment, prohibit actions or objects, identify the location of firefighting or safety equipment, or marking of exit routes.
In addition to being encountered in industrial facilities; safety signs are also found in public places and communities, at electrical pylons and Electrical substations, cliffs, beaches, bodies of water, on motorized equipment, such as lawn mowers, and areas closed for construction or demolition.
One of the earliest attempts to standardize safety signage in the United States was the 1914 Universal Safety Standards. The signs were fairly simple in nature, consisting of an illuminated board with “DANGER” in white letters on a red field. An arrow was added to draw attention to the danger if it was less obvious. Signs indicating exits, first aid kits consisted of a green board, with white letters. The goal with signs was to inform briefly. The next major standards to follow were ASA, which later revised in 1967 and 1968. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration devised their requirements from ASA Z35.1-1968 in the development of their rules, OSHA §1910.145 for the usage of safety signage
In the 1980s, American National Standards Institute formed a committee to update the and standards. In 1991, ANSI Z535 was introduced, which was intended to modernize signage through increased use of symbols, the introduction of a new header, ‘Warning’ and requiring that wording not just state the hazard, but also the possible harm the hazard could inflict and how to avoid the hazard. Until 2013, OSHA regulations technically required usage of signage prescribed in OSHA §1910.145, based on the standard ASA Z35.1-1968. Regulation changes and clarification of the law now allow usage of signs complying with either designs.
Various European electricity warnings in use prior to
Prior to widespread globalization and adoption of standards from the ISO, most countries developed their own standards for safety signage. Text only signs were common prior to introduction of European Council Directive 77/576/EEC on 25 July 1977, which required member states to have policies in place to ensure that “safety signs at all places of work conform to the principles laid down in Annex I”, which required color coding and symbols. In 1992, the European Council Directive 92/58/EEC replaced EEC 77/576/EEC. The new directive included improved information on how to utilize safety signage effectively. Beyond safety signs, EEC Directive 92/58/EEC standardize markings for fire equipment, acoustic signals, verbal and hand signals for vehicle movements. In 2013, the European Union adopted ISO 7010 to replace the symbols provided previously, adopting them as European Norm (EN) ISO 7010, standardizing symbols among the EU countries. Prior to this, while symbols were provided, symbols were permitted to vary in appearance “provided that they convey the same meaning and that no difference or adaptation obscures the meaning”.
Australian safety signage started in 1952 as CZ4-1952: Safety signs for the occupational environment. It revised and redesi gnated as AS1319-1972 in 1972, with further revisions taking place in 1979, 1983 and was reconfirmed as still being valid and not in need of major revisions.
Examples of differences in Japanese signs.
A square ‘No Trespassing’ sign.
A vertical format warning sign.
The JIS standard symbol for ‘Do not touch’
Japanese safety signage is notable for its clear visual differences from international norms, such as use of square ‘no symbols’, vertical formatting of sign text. Safety sign standards are regulated by Japanese Industrial Standards through standards JIS Z9101 (Workplace and public area safety signs) (Safety sign colors) and JIS Z 9104 (Safety signs – General specifications). While design trends have been moving towards international norms of ISO and ANSI standards, differences are still present such as the use of symbols unique to the JIS standards, using colors differently from ISO standards[d] and using a combination of Japanese kanji and English. In addition to typical safety sign standards, Japan introduced JIS Z 9098 in 2016 specifically addressing emergency management needs: informing people of areas susceptible to natural disasters, evacuation routes and safe shelters from disasters. The standard’s more unique aspect is the usage of maps and diagrams to provide more detailed information about the area’s hazards, shelters and evacuation routes
The 2007 revisions to allowed for the ‘safety alert symbol’ found on ‘Danger’, Warning’ and ‘Caution’ headers to be replaced with the ISO 7010 “W001 – General warning” symbol to enable compliance with ISO 3864-1 for signs used in international situations or equipment being exported abroad. Additional headers designs exist, prescribed a magenta and yellow ‘Radiation’ header for radiation hazards. Other headers have been created by sign manufacturers for various situations not covered Z53.1 standard, such as “Security Notice”, “Bio hazard”, “Restricted Area”.
ISO Safety symbols. Clockwise from upper left: Prohibited, Warning; Safe condition; Mandatory.
See also: Hazard symbol
As a means of overcoming language and literacy barriers, symbols depicting the hazards, required action or equipment, prohibited actions or items and safety equipment were introduced to safety signage during the 1990s. Globalization and increased international trade helped push this development, as a means of reducing costs associated with needing signage multiple languages. Increasingly, countries are adopting symbols used by ISO 7010 and UN Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals, that harmonizes symbols internationally to reduce confusion, and bring themselves into compliance with international standards.
An American “Wet Floor” sign in English and Spanish
For temporary situations such as wet floors, portable signs are used. They are designed to be self supporting and relatively easy to move once the task is complete. The 1914 Universal Safety Standards provided for a portable ‘Danger’ sign suitable for both hard floors and soft dirt. Portable signs can take a variety of forms, from a traffic cone with stick on letters, plastic a-frame signs, to safety signs mounted on poles with bases that enable movement.
Wet floor signs are also intended to avoid legal liability from injury due failing to warn of an unsafe condition. They are usually yellow. The warning is sometimes enhanced with new technology to provide audible warnings. Robotic cleaning equipment can use wet floor signs with sonar gadgetry to know when its job is finished
Effectiveness of safety signs
Information overload: Instructions of what to do when a lightning alarm sounds are in the second paragraph.
Since the late 1980s, more emphasis has been put on testing signage for clarity and to eliminate possible misunderstandings. Researchers have examined the impacts of using different signal words, inclusion of borders and color contrast with text and symbols against sign backgrounds. In 1999, a group of designers were tasked with creating standardized warning labels for personal watercraft. The group devised several versions of the same warning label using different symbols, wording and emphasis of key phrases through use of underlining, bold fonts and capitalizing. The label designs were reviewed by the United States Coast Guard, United States Power Squadron, industry representatives and subjected to ease of comprehension and readability tests. Results of these reviews and tests lead to further revisions of words and redesigning of some symbols. The resulting labels are still applied to personal watercraft nearly 20 years after their initial design.
Placement of signs also affects the effectiveness of signs. A 1993 study tested compliance with a warning against loading the top drawer of a filing cabinet first. The warning was least effective when it was only placed on the shipping box, but most effective when placed as part of a removable cardboard sleeve that physically obstructed the top drawer, interfering with adding files to the drawer.
Sign effectiveness can be reduced from a number of factors, including information overload, where the sheer amount of information is presented in a manner that a reader is unable process it adequately, such as being confronted by a sign consisting of dozens of words with no paragraph breaks, or excessive amounts of unnecessary information.[f] This can be prevented through simplifying warnings down to their key points, with supplementary manuals or training covering the more nuanced and minor information. Overwarning is a related problem, where warnings are overlooked by people due to the sheer number of warnings, such as placing many safety signs together, redundant or obvious warnings. Effectiveness can be reduced through conditions such as poor maintenance, placing a sign too high or low, or in a way that requires excessive effort to read
What are Safety Signs and Symbols?
Safety signs and symbols are easily recognizable graphic labels that represent the general protocol and safety instructions in either workplaces, establishments, or public spaces. The appearance of safety signs and symbols can sometimes vary depending on the country or region, but their general goal is to communicate safety information which transcends language barriers and can be interpreted globally.
Safety Signs and Symbols
As one of the widely used industry practices in preventing injuries and accidents, safety signs and symbols inform individuals of the presence of hazards, dangers, or risks associated with certain items or places.
Why Use Safety Symbols
According to the ISO standard on safety colors and signs (ISO 3864-1:2011), “there is a need to standardize a system of giving safety information that relies as little as possible on the use of words to achieve understanding.”
Safety signs and symbols are used as safety communication tools—they help send clear messages, instructions, and warnings without the use of too many words. They speed up the level of understanding of individuals, and are useful especially in scenarios where a quick response is needed.
With the use of visual aids, safety signs and symbols reduce the risk of accidents and create awareness on hazards present in specific areas or materials.
Types of Safety Symbols (with Examples)
Standardized safety signs and symbols are characterized by images, pictograms, shapes, words, phrases, sentences, or statements. Each shape conveys a different meaning, and each color represents the type of precaution it’s categorized in. Below are the 4 main types of safety symbols with names and their
The prohibition sign, also known as the No symbol or “Do Not” sign, is a type of symbol that indicates an instruction of forbidding an activity. It aims to prevent a behavior that could pose a potential risk not just to an individual, but to the area and its other occupants as well. This can also sometimes be just direct commands for prohibited activities.
These signs are characterized by a circular red band with a diagonal line descending from left to right in a 45 degree angle. Examples of these are do not smoke or do not enter commands
Warning signs, as the name suggests, are symbols that communicate warnings and notify individuals of the presence of hazards or dangers in an area. These dangers may not initially be apparent so usage of these types of signs helps ensure that special attention is gained from the people in the vicinity.
This can vary but the common characteristics of this symbol is a yellow or amber band in a triangle form and black text that specifies why it’s a hazard. Examples of these are deep excavation signs and high voltage warnings.
The mandatory sign is a symbol that orders a specific action to help comply with statutory requirements involving a business or industry. It aims to protect individuals from dangers that could arise, should these orders be disregarded, and is commonly used in isolated areas where a particular precaution is required.
These signs usually feature a circular shape with a blue background and white pictogram. Examples of these are areas with safety helmet and protective goggles requirements.
Emergency signs are one of the most common types of symbols used generally and understood fairly easily. These are symbols that indicate emergency exits and doors, escape routes, and signs that direct to first aid or emergency equipment.
These signs are characterized with rectangular or square shapes, green background, and white pictogram. Most common examples of these are fire exits and other secondary routes used for emergencies.
Aside from the above-mentioned safety signs and symbols, there are labels that are specifically or are mostly used for identifying potential chemical hazards called GS pictograms.
What are GS Pictograms?
GHS pictograms are graphic labels that communicate the potential risk associated with a specific chemical and unprotected exposure to its elements. It is characterized by a symbol on a white background, framed with red borders, and an imagery that distinctly presents the classification or type of potential hazard it is related to.
GHS pictograms are part of the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals—an internationally agreed-upon standard of labeling scheme and hazard classification in relation to hazardous chemicals.
According to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), and in compliance with the updated Hazard Communication Standard (HCS), it is required that all chemical labels have a standardized signal word, precautionary statement, and pictograms attached for each hazard class and category.
As an employer, you must understand safety signs and their meanings so that you can appropriately use the correct safety signs in the workplace. Health and safety signs come in four distinct colours, and each indicates a different warning or precaution.
Blue safety signs are mandatory signs that explain a specific action. A yellow safety sign is a warning or caution sign. Red safety signs usually indicate danger or prohibition of a certain substance or act. Green signs are not designed to highlight danger, and instead indicate helpful information and safe points, such as fire exits or first aid points.
Using the correct safety sign as an employer is a legal requirement set out by the Health and Safety Executive, and it is therefore essential to understand health and safety signs and their meanings in order to ensure your workplace is being kept safe.
Safety signs and the law
All employers have a legal duty to display safety signs where there is a risk to the safety of pedestrians or employees, despite putting other safety measures in place. You can minimise risks by conducting routine workplace health and safety assessments, and following the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) guidelines if you use hazardous substances in your place of work.
Every safety sign should be clearly visible and legible and should only be used to identify the correct actions, such as the use of personal protective equipment (PPE), or no access zones. Using too many signs could be confusing. You only need to put up a safety sign if there is a danger that poses a significant risk. Whilst health and safety signs are not always required by law, they can still be helpful.
You can find out more information about the Health and Safety (Safety Signs and Signals) Regulations 1996 on the government website. This is the law you must follow when displaying health and safety signs in the workplace.
Explaining the meaning of common health and safety signs
Safety signs can vary in colour, size and shape. You should understand which safety sign you need in your business, as this will depend on the type of business you run. Usually, green safety signs are the most common, as all workplaces must indicate fire exits. If you use or store hazardous substances, yellow safety signs should be used.